March 1, 2003
Jerome Coleman gave a performance for Rutgers’ fans to remember him by, and his understudy gave them a glimpse of the future.
Playing in what was most likely his final game at Louis Brown Athletic Center, Coleman broke out of a scoring slump with 27 points as the Scarlet Knights upset No. 9 Notre Dame 95-82 Saturday, their first win over a Top 10 team in more than 20 years.
Freshman guard Calvin Wooten added 18 points for Rutgers (12-14, 4-10 Big East), which shot a season-high 54 percent and snapped a four-game losing streak with its highest scoring game of the season.
Chris Thomas scored 24 points to lead Notre Dame (21-7, 9-5).
“Everyone was saying we were dead, and they were ready to stick a fork in us,” Rutgers coach Gary Waters said. “But this team never quit. They thought they could go out there and play with this team.”
The victory, coupled with West Virginia’s 56-53 loss to Seton Hall on Saturday, kept alive Rutgers’ hopes of qualifying for the Big East tournament.
Both teams are 4-10, tied for last place in the Big East’s West Division. Georgetown (5-9) is a game ahead in fifth place. The last-place teams in each of the two divisions don’t make the trip to New York for the conference tournament.
Rutgers’ last win against a top 10 team came on Feb. 27, 1982, against West Virginia, but they own a win this season against then-No. 24 Syracuse on Jan. 29.
The Scarlet Knights also gave No. 5 Pittsburgh a scare in a 70-63 loss on Jan. 12.
Most of the rest of the season has been a succession of missed opportunities and inconsistent play, but Rutgers raced to a 24-point lead midway through the first half against Notre Dame.
“I always felt the guys had the ability to go out and play like that,” said senior center Kareem Wright, who had 11 points. “Today was that day.”
Coleman, who is Rutgers’ leading scorer at 16 points per game, had scored a total of 14 points in recent losses to Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall.
But he came out firing Saturday and scored 17 first-half points, going 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Rutgers made 15 of its first 25 shots and finished the half 17-of-30 (57 percent).
“For the first time I was getting some open looks and hitting some shots,” Coleman said. “The last couple of games I felt like I was just running around out there.”
Notre Dame was unable to get closer than 11 points in the second half. The Fighting Irish, who came into the game shooting 45 percent from the field, were 10-for-29 (35 percent) in the first half and 23-for-61 (38 percent) for the game.
“There’s been a lot of talk about tournaments, particularly the NCAA tournament,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We have to reel our focus back in and hopefully get a little momentum back before the Big East tournament.”
Leading 12-8 with 16:10 left in the first half, Rutgers took control with a 31-11 run over the next 10:21 to take a 43-19 lead. A big boost was provided Wooten, who hit three 3-pointers and had 11 points in the run. The freshman is averaging six points in 16 minutes per game this season, but has seen more playing time in the last three weeks.
“He’s going to be a great player for Rutgers,” Coleman said. “He has a knack for scoring, and that’s what he needs to do out there.”
Notre Dame responded over the final five minutes of the half, holding Rutgers scoreless for more than four minutes to close to 43-30 on two free throws by Dan Miller with 2:01 remaining. But Coleman answered with a fallaway 3-pointer from the right wing to push the lead back to 16.